A common fear of people with social anxiety is the fear that everyone is staring at me. If you have social anxiety, you probably know the feeling of constantly worrying that you’re being looked at, judged, or otherwise receiving a disproportionate amount of attention.
A common occurrence when you have trichotillomania—a mental disorder which causes a person to compulsively pull out their own hair, leaving them with visible bald spots—is people staring at you, noticing, or asking questions about your hair.
So… what happens when you have both? Well, if you’re anything like me, the first thing you do is panic. Do whatever you can to cover it up, hide it, keep it under wraps. And then, when that doesn’t work, you decide to embrace it by making videos online, sharing it with the whole world. But maybe I should start from the beginning.
I’ve been socially anxious for as long as I can remember. And it can make everything from talking on the phone to maintaining relationships feel really, really, difficult sometimes. Throughout high school, I handled this by trying to blend into the background: I listened more than I spoke, wore what I hoped were “cool” clothes, and carried a book around with me wherever I went. Even then, I worried about my facial expressions, my voice, my clothes, my words, and just about everything else.
I’ve become a lot less anxious through lots (and lots) of therapy, but about a year ago, I was thrown a curveball: my trichotillomania, which I hadn’t struggled with in over ten years, popped up again. I started pulling more and more of my hair, to the point where other people began noticing, and asking about it. I felt humiliated. It was one of my worst fears come true: everybody was staring at me. Judging me. Thinking I was weird, freakish, diseased. Okay, so, that’s not entirely true. Most people probably didn’t give me more than a second glance. And, if they thought anything at all, it was probably more along the lines of that’s odd than who let her out of the circus? But, of course, that’s not how it felt at the time.
So, like many people my age, I decided to do an Instagram search for #trichotillomania in hopes that I might find some advice, or even just a few people I could relate to. What I found instead was a slew of hair-replacement ads and graphic images of balding. There were only a few things that I found remotely reassuring.
I decided that needed to change. So, I made a video about it, showing my bald spots, and asserting that I was “still beautiful.” After fretting and feeling insecure over it, I took it down, less than 12 hours later.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I built up the courage to try again. By this point, my bald spots were a lot bigger, and I’d taken to wearing a hat most of the time… but I took it off, clicked the camera on, and tried to figure out how to make the kind of video I wish I’d seen the first time I’d looked up #trichotillomania just months before.
Since then, I’ve gotten hundreds of thousands of views on videos telling my story, cracking lighthearted jokes about it, and educating others on the conditions I deal with. I’ve been able to connect with thousands of other trichsters (people with trichotillomania), as well as countless non-trichsters who are just interested in following my journey and learning about something new!
And this isn’t to say it’s always easy. I still have days where I feel like I’m more anxiety than girl. I still have times when I freeze up and forget what to say when people ask about my hair in-person. But I’m learning to embrace myself a little more, and to speak a little louder, each day.
Because if people are going to stare at me, why not make it a good thing?